Walking through the store recently I heard a young girl (about nine years old) whining loudly. She was following her mom with big crocodile tears flowing down her face. “Mom, I want it. Why won’t you buy it? Mom, pleeeease!”
As the mom ignored the youngster, her pleas escalated. Now sobbing, her daughter howled, “Mom, I want it. I WANT IT NOW.”
The mother valiantly tried not to lose her temper. Finally she turned to her daughter and said in a very firm voice, “Stop it. You are not getting it. You did not behave.”
My heart sank.
Although this mother may have been correct in not rewarding her daughter’s misbehavior with a special treat from the store, she missed a larger opportunity to teach her child an important truth.
We live in a culture of “I want more” and believe “If I had more, I would be happier.” Even as adults we’ve bought into this lie. Who hasn’t said to themselves, “If only I had more _______, then I’d be happy.”
If only you had more money, more time, a bigger house, a different spouse, a newer car, then you’d feel happier? Right? Not really. That kind of happiness only lasts for as long as it takes to start dreaming of the next thing you want.
This little girl in the shopping mall is growing up in a culture of entitlement where we not only want more, we think we need more and we deserve more. Every television commercial reminds us that we deserve more because we’re worth it.
Entitlement thinking enlarges the self as we become more and more self-centered and self absorbed, but it diminishes the spirit and poisons the soul. Instead of feeling happy and grateful for what we have, we feel gypped and grumble and complain because we are not getting more of what we think we need and deserve. More isn’t better because more never satisfies. More just fuels our desire for more.
So how do we break free from the mindset of more? The apostle Paul tells us that if we want to grow we must retrain our mind to think in new ways. (Romans 12:2). We have to realize that the world’s way of thinking is not only incorrect, it leads to death. Paul shares with us a secret that he learned that helped him reject the tyranny of more. He learned how to be content in every situation (Philippians 4:11).
We too can learn to be content, but it takes some discipline. Here are two practices you can begin and teach your children in order to learn contentment.
The Bible says, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord (Psalm 92:1). Gratitude counters our entitlement mindset and helps us appreciate the things we do have. On the way home from the store, this mom could have invited her daughter to think of five things she is thankful for. As she turned her attention toward her blessings, her daughter’s grumbling attitude may have changed.
Even when it’s hard to see the good in a particular situation, God calls us to give thanks in all things (not necessarily for all things) (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Mom might have been tempted to grumble internally about her daughter’s misbehavior and immaturity, but retraining her own mind would have reminded her instead to give thanks. Although aggravating, that teachable moment was a gift from God to help her and her daughter see things in a new way. They don’t need more in order to be happy.
2. Turn to praise and worship
When our entitlement mindset looms large, consciously turn your heart away from more and turn it toward God in praise. Praise thanks God for who he is and what he has given us. As we faithfully practice praising and thanking God, we learn to trust his character and his plan for our life even when we don’t understand or like it.
The apostle Paul learned these lessons while sitting in a prison cell. Often it is in the hardest places where we are most teachable. Today when you are tempted to grumble and complain or just want more, stop; tell yourself “enough already” and turn your heart and mind toward all that you have and all God has done. See what a difference this small shift makes in your mood.